When Adult Children Go Astray

It is winter, but the day is warm and sunny with a slight breeze blowing. The well-dressed couple standing outside the prison gates is obviously uncomfortable. They wait with others who are passing the time in conversations revealing they have been here before. The drama is much too real as electric gates slide open. Taking deep breathes and with heads held high they begin walking toward the entrance of the drab building.

A young woman walks along side the retired couple. After introductions she explains the procedure for visiting behind the concrete walls. They enter the noisy room filled with metal chairs where clusters of people sit leaning toward each other. Armed guards walk the periphery of the visitors’ quarters arranging chairs as the large room fills up.

Staking out three metal chairs the mother listens to the tears and laughter – observing the total lack of privacy. Men’s faces light up as they walk through the guarded door and reach out for those who are waiting to see them -- girlfriends, parents, wives, infants and children. Her heart grieves as she absorbs what this brief visit means to the incarcerated whose eyes are riveted on their friends and family.

Lonely people grasping for a few moments of love surround her. She wishes that she could interview the teenager wearing the Georgia Tech shirt – but strangers keep their eyes averted – careful not to make eye contact with anyone outside their space. Her life will never be the same. It is easy to sit in her office reading mail and praying for faceless prisoners who are far away – behind walls she never expected to enter.

The reality of the moment hits hard as the guard opens the door and their son walks toward them; after exchanging hugs they pull three cold metal chairs in a semi-circle and sit down. They didn’t drive over two hours for small talk, and the mother asks a myriad of questions. They explore the why, where, when and how did we get here.

The silence of many years is broken as the three discuss their hurts, anger and frustrations. The reticent Dad reveals some of his innermost feelings, and the son notes that they haven’t talked like this in thirty years. Much too soon they say good-bye.

Emotions Released in Prayer

Today many families have been touched by addictions, and as a result they often find themselves going to court. They hope that this time their adult child will truly repent. Praying parents do not escape the emotions that assail them when a child departs for the strange country of drugs, alcohol and sex. Anger, grief, disappointment, guilt, pain of failure and feelings of betrayal play havoc with their prayers. Negative feelings attempt to overwhelm them and distance them from God. They don’t feel like praying.

We can identify with Old Testament saints who poured out their anguish to God. Their prayers were not beautifully written – they were prayers of wretchedness and grief. Job said, “I will speak out in the anguish of my spirit, I will complain in the bitterness of my soul” (7:11). This is not the time to run from God; run to the One who can make bitter experiences sweet.

On more than one occasion King David prayed through his anguish and frustration. In Psalm 56 he prayed, “You have collected all my tears and preserved them in your bottle! You have recorded every one in your book.” Hannah poured out her emotions before God. The priest who mistook her emotional outpouring for drunkenness did not distract her. She knew that her God would answer prayer. The effectual, fervent prayer of a righteous person avails much. (James 5:16)

Praying for Your Adult Children

How do you stand in faith for your adult children? When you are in the midst of a crisis what do you do? Pour yourself out before God. He gave you emotions. On an occasion when I was very distraught about a situation, I began to weep bitterly as though I were broken. Finally, the sobbing subsided and I heard the voice of my Father, “You may be broken, but you are not crushed. I can put you back together.”

Do not harbor self-pity, which is a temptation, and when you stand praying, forgive – forgive yourself for your mistakes and forgive your child his. God is not holding anything against us, and we have to remember that we hold the thoughts, feelings and purposes of His heart. Choose to go with God. His way is always perfect for your child. There is nothing your adult child can do that is too hard for God.

Let go of preaching at them and refuse to judge and condemn them. Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. Ask him if he has any prayer requests he would like to share with you. Listen, rather than thinking about what you can say that will turn the situation around. I am reminded of something I heard attributed to Dr. Billy Graham: It’s God’s job to judge, the Holy Spirit’s job to convict and our job to love. You must first love the Lord your God.

Pray according to the Word and in the Spirit, asking the Lord of the harvest to send laborers and counselors across his path. Once you put the law of prayer into operation do not turn coward or lose heart. God loves your child even more than you do.

Prayer enables you to build up the hedge, and stand in the gap before the Father crying out for mercy on behalf of your wayward child. Mercy will triumphant over judgment. Your prayer makes way for God to interpose the influence of His Spirit on the heart and mind of this one who has lost his way. God is faithful – when you commit yourself to Him, you and your family shall be saved.

Copyright Germaine Copeland 2000


Germaine Copeland is the author of the best selling book series, Prayers That Avail Much. She has written scriptural prayers for the family. Read your Bible, pray and attend church where you can soak up the love and faith of God. You will receive emotional healing, experience spiritual growth and become more intimately acquainted with your Heavenly Father, and your relationships will grow stronger.

Continue to pray the Prayers of Commitment from Germaine's Prayers That Avail Much Commemorative Edition and ask to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord.